CO Gaming Just Scratching Surface of Potential, Says Casino Director

Written By Adam Hensley on 05/17/2024 - Last Updated on May 21, 2024
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Colorado might not be considered a hotbed for gambling right now, but one casino official foresees a thriving gaming industry that rivals even Las Vegas one day.

Steve Zlobin, director of games at Monarch Casino Resort Spa, told PlayColorado that he believes the best is yet to come for Colorado gaming.

“I don’t believe we’ve really gotten close to what the Colorado gaming market is capable of.”

Monarch Casino a Top Gambling Resort in Colorado

More than 40 casinos are currently operating in the three Colorado towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. There are also two small tribal-owned casinos in the southwest corner of the state. Colorado online casinos remain illegal.

Monarch Casino Resort Spa is considered one of the top gambling destinations in Colorado. Located in Black Hawk, the resort underwent a $400 million expansion that was completed in 2022.

The resort now sports a rooftop pool and a luxurious spa and added several restaurants. The hotel itself boasts more than 500 rooms.

Head to the casino floor and customers are greeted by more than 1,000 slot machines, 42 table games and high-stakes gambling options, Zlobin said.

“Even though we have higher-limit gaming now, we constantly have people that come into our doors and say, ‘I just had no idea this was in my backyard.’ It’s just reaching the people, the market, and letting them know that ‘Hey, this is a Vegas-like experience, and actually it’s better than a Vegas experience because it’s in your own backyard.’ If you’re in Denver, you can be at our property enjoying yourself in the time it would take you to get to the airport. There’s still so much growth and potential for Colorado.”

Removal of Betting Limits a ‘Driving Reason’ for Revenue Growth

Colorado residents voted to remove the $100 betting limit at casinos three years ago. Since then, gaming revenue has jumped 28%.

It’s made big difference, Zlobin said.

“That’s definitely a driving reason. The higher limit attracts guests who want that experience.”

In March, Colorado casinos generated $95.9 million in revenue. It was the second-best month this fiscal year and the fifth straight month with year-over-year growth.

Zlobin firmly believes removing the betting limit helped create more jobs in the area.

“We’ve been able to create a lot of new jobs for Coloradoans. For people that were underemployed, we were able to create opportunities – not just a job, but a career. We’re able to attract great talent outside of Colorado because it’s a great place to live and a great place to raise a family. The higher limits mean higher revenue, which means higher salaries that we can attract those people with. It’s going to help us grow the gaming industry.”

Combining the Old and the New

Black Hawk boasts deep historical roots as a mining town. Zlobin said it is key to recognize its history with a modern flair.

“(Black Hawk) will always have that historical aspect. It’s really a historic place. … (But) the town is evolving. We in the gaming industry need to be better to be an arm of the Colorado Tourism Association. The town absolutely has to evolve and be able to provide the amenities and the experience that people both inside and outside of Colorado are looking for.”

Monarch’s 2022 renovation is a prime example. Its luxurious additions and historic ambiance caught USA Today’s attention last year, which nominated it for Best Hotel Spa.

With Monarch leading the way, Black Hawk casinos dominate Colorado’s booming gambling industry. The town’s casinos combined to collect $74.4 million during March, or 77.5% of the state’s entire casino revenue.

Exceptional Customer Service Key to Being Successful

Zlobin said a major component of Monarch’s strategy to entice Colorado customers is to provide an entire resort experience.

“People in Colorado are more likely to do a staycation with all the things Colorado can offer. Having higher limits, the gaming and that staycation experience in your own backyard is very attractive to a lot of our residents.”

He told PlayColorado that casinos must look beyond just offering a place to gamble.

I think the biggest trend that we’ve seen is the appetite for an exceptional gaming experience. It’s no longer OK to offer just slots or tables and expect someone to play and go home. You have to provide that experience. You have to provide the level of acknowledgement and game that most people look for when they go on vacation. “

But it’s more than just having a nice hotel, fine dining and spas, Zlobin said. The key is hiring the right people to provide over-the-top customer service.

“It’s also having the people that work at the casino from the dealers to the servers at the restaurants really provide that high-level experience for the guest that everybody craves when they want to get away. … From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. You should always feel like a VIP.”

Retail Sportsbooks at Casinos Offer a Unique Experience

Voters approved retail and online sports betting in Colorado nearly four years ago. While mobile betting has been much more popular, retail betting brings “an experience,” Zlobin said.

“A good example is the March Madness tournament. The first weekend of March Madness was an absolute madhouse with people from all sorts of walks of life coming in and banding together in that space. You have 200, 300 people in one area and they’re all rooting for a specific team or an upset. It’s an unusual experience. That’s really driven the casual gambler to get into the live sportsbook space because that’s an experience. You can’t get that experience with your buddies watching the game on a Sunday afternoon.”

Retail sportsbooks can provide a solid alternative for fans looking to place a bet and watch a game or two with friends. Placing a bet and sticking around for a meal is often much cheaper than buying a ticket and concessions at a live event.

Sportsbooks at casinos, with the food and drink options and a plethora of televisions and seating, can’t be replicated anywhere else, Zlobin said.

“In my mind, that’s what people crave. They crave those experiences that bring people together.”

Zlobin Thinks Online Casinos Lack Responsible Gambling Protections

Zlobin told PlayColorado that he doesn’t think the state will add online casinos anytime soon.

“My view on it is Colorado won’t be considering iGaming in the near future. We are big on responsible gaming. Having online gaming is really counterproductive to that.”

Currently, Colorado sweepstakes casinos, which award cash prizes using virtual dollars, is the only option for Colorado residents. However, the Colorado Capitol has not tried to add iGaming for real money.

Zlobin says the ease of online casinos is what makes them a risk to responsible gambling.

“You can look at it from whatever angle you want, whether it’s underage (gambling), at your fingertips, you can log in at whatever time.”

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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, who currently works for the USA Today Network. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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